Pubdate: Thu, 06 Sep 2012
Source: Tribune, The (San Luis Obispo, CA)
Copyright: 2012 The Tribune
Author: Bill Morem


When Proposition 215, known as the Compassionate Use Act, was passed
by California voters in 1996 by almost 57 percent of the electorate,
only two coastal counties voted against the marijuana-based
initiative: Del Norte County in the far northwest of the state, and
San Luis Obispo County.

In retrospect, this county's political position on a state law that
allows a patient with a doctor's recommendation to legally use pot for
medical reasons may have been a harbinger for the Dec. 27, 2010, bust
of 12 people who were later dubbed the "Doobie Dozen."

Paso Robles resident Peter Miller was in his 50s doing construction
work with a bad back, bad knee and a shoulder that needed surgery. So,
in late 2008, he sought and received a doctor's recommendation for
using pot to alleviate his pain and began growing enough of the plant
to meet his medical needs.

The following year, after researching 2004 state legislation - Senate
Bill 420 - that broadened Proposition 215 guidelines to include
transportation of marijuana through legally formed collectives or
cooperatives, Miller formed a collective called Harmonic Alliance out
of his Paso Robles home.

State Health and Safety Code amendments under SB 420 seem pretty
clear, according to a Patients' Guide to Medical Marijuana Law in 

"Within the context of a bona fide collective or caregiver
relationship, SB 420 provides protection against charges for
possession for sale (H&SC 11359); transportation, sale, giving away,
furnishing, etc. (H&SC 11360)."

Miller says he double- and triple-checked the rules for operating a
collective. He filled out all of the state-mandated paperwork and
believed he was impeccably covered with regard to the law. Yet, by his
own admission, Miller says he "took a calculated risk" on his new career.

The calculated risk in question was the county's law enforcement
attitude toward growing pot, which has been hard line, illustrated by
the 2007 bust of Charles Lynch.

Lynch had operated a medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay before
he was arrested and the store closed. He subsequently received a
year-and-one-day sentence.

Additionally, federal agents were now regularly closing down similar
dispensaries around the state, threatening asset forfeiture of real
estate as their stick because, in the final tally, marijuana use or
possession is still against the law in any form at the federal level.

Nonetheless, from late 2009 to Dec. 26, 2010, Miller made deliveries
without incident to about 100 people who had paid a fee to join his

What he didn't know is that the now-defunct narcotic task force was
using an undercover agent (with a physician's permit slip) to buy pot
from Miller on three occasions between September and December.

The task force, comprised of some 50 members of county law enforcement
agencies and the state Department of Justice, dropped its hammer Dec.
27, 2010.

Those caught up in what was called Operation Green Sweep included nine
Central Coast residents from Pismo Beach to Paso Robles, as well as
three individuals from Southern California.

By Miller's reckoning, the bust was horrific on multiple

"First, my great-grandfather was one of the first constables of Paso
Robles; my grandfather was in on the capture of John Dillinger in the
1930s, so there's law enforcement in my family. In fact, no one in the
history of my family had ever gone to jail. I told the officers that I
was legitimate and that I'd show them all of my paperwork to prove

He was told he'd be seeing eight years in prison.

And then there were the physical indignities of the arrest itself. It
was around 7 a.m., and he was made to stand outside in shorts and a
T-shirt for 40 minutes in 31-degree weather.

He was handcuffed, put in an unmarked car and taken to the Paso Robles
home of Charles and Rachel Tamagni, who were also part of Green Sweep.
"I didn't know what was going on. I was scared to death," Miller said.

Rachel Tamagni didn't know Miller and asked the agents what Miller was
doing in their house.

As the sweep of arrests continued for the next couple of hours, Miller
had to urinate. His pleas to be allowed to do so, as well as the
pleadings of others who were now in a van, went unheeded and Miller
was forced to wet himself.

Meanwhile, another couple that operated a collective had their
children placed in protective custody of a relative after agents
entered their home with automatic weapons drawn. Computers and various
other assets were seized from each location. The Tamagni's Chihuahua
died of cardiac arrest shortly after their arrests. Homes were
allegedly tossed and trashed.

As Patrick Fisher, attorney for nine of the defendants later noted:
"Everybody's worst nightmare, they're living it right now."

For Miller, that nightmare has meant that between Dec. 27, 2010, and
Aug. 13, 2012, he's made 18 court appearances for arraignment,
re-arraignment, motions, pre-trial meetings, readiness hearings, five
changes of judges and two changes of assistant district attorneys.

All of this legal wrangling, according to Fisher, was pursued by the
DA's Office to bring clarity to the law, although the appellate courts
have upheld the guidelines of Proposition 215 and SB 420.

On Aug. 14, Peter Miller had all charges dropped, without his case
going to appeal by the DA's Office. The same can't be said for the
other defendants, who are facing perhaps another year of legal
wrangling because of the DA Office's belief that the state Supreme
Court will give yet greater clarification of the law. Attorney Fisher
doubts that will happen.

And Miller today? The 43-year county resident may not be a totally
broken man, but he's one who has pretty much lost everything: his
wife, his savings and bank accounts, personal property, possibly his
house and his health.

At 58 years old, he's back in construction with a bad back, bad knee
and a shoulder that needs surgery.

Yet he's more quizzical and philosophical than overtly

"I can't believe that through all the levels of law enforcement that
not one of them said, 'Hey, this is a bad idea.' All they had to do
was knock on our doors and ask for our paperwork.

"I tried to be compassionate and humane, but the cost is too dear.
They took everything, even though I was following the law."
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